Lakeside, Evans (0-0) at Statesboro (0-0)
7:30 p.m., 102.9 FM
The Statesboro Blue Devils open up a brand new season with an old rival tonight as Lakeside, Evans comes calling for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff at Womack Field.
This marks the fifth consecutive season that the teams have met. The Panthers eliminated the Devils in the first round of the 2009 state playoffs before Statesboro took a pair of region matchups in 2010-11. Last season saw Lakeside make the jump up to Class AAAAA, but the teams continued their rivalry as the Devils claimed a 26-7 win.
In a series that has featured plenty of tense finishes and last-second comebacks, Statesboro is hoping for a scenario more like last year’s relatively easy win.
“We have a great respect for Lakeside and what they do,” SHS coach Steve Pennington said. “That first game is exciting for everyone. It’s good to have that excitement, but it’s also important to stay focused. We know that we’ve got a very capable opponent on our hands.”
Jarrett Troxler enters his fourth season at the helm of the Panthers after three seasons of hovering around the .500 mark.
Troxler has employed a wide-open spread offense that quarterback Hunter Banks is set to direct for the second consecutive season. A combination of strong arms, quick running backs and sure-handed receivers was too much for SHS to handle during their playoff run-in years ago, but Lakeside might now be playing right into the teeth of the Devils’ defense.
Returning starters Anthony Gore, Jacob Schofill and Jackson Ware are proven veterans that have seen just about every type of spread offensive scheme in their tenure. Hard-hitting and ball-hawking, the Devils’ secondary was a big factor in last season’s win over Lakeside and might have the Panthers lined up for another long night.
“You see (Lakeside) spread out, but they also have a capable power game,” Pennington said. “It’s like a Wing-T run from the shotgun. We’ve got young guys up front who will have to execute so that our guys in the secondary can concentrate on stopping the pass.”
As is usually the game plan, the Statesboro offense will be looking to impose its will on the ground. The Devils pounded out 280 rushing yards last season and return a bigger and more experienced offensive line to tonight’s game.
The running backs corps has lost some size this season, but has more than made up for it with speed. Diquan Brunson and Akarri Williams are ready to earn the tough yards up the middle while Zach Grant and Sherrodric Rawls will be tough to catch if they get to the edge of the Lakeside defense.
Adding to the list of weapons for SHS is second year starting Quarterback Colin Chance. Chance has the build to take on defenders in the option game, and has showcased a big arm that will pose trouble to the Panthers if they stack the box.
Statesboro showed plenty of shotgun and passing formations in the preseason — a chilling thought for teams that had trouble containing the Devils when they were more one-dimensional.
“Having that diversity is good because it really puts pressure on the defense,” Pennington said. “It also puts a lot of responsibility on every position on our offense. Doing more things looks fun to the fans, but that means we have to execute more blocking schemes and recognize different defenses that we’ll see.”
For a Statesboro team coming off of two consecutive first round playoff exits, a fast start is key to building momentum and working towards a longer run this year. With a win tonight, the Devils have a great shot at a strong first half as another home game — against Richmond Academy — awaits next week, followed by a date with Tattnall County, which is winless all-time against Statesboro.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.